At the Art Institute of Chicago, children speaking in American accents with matching orange T-shirts posed for photos and stood where the man they'd spent months studying, called for interfaith tolerance and understanding, said a recent article in the Chicago Tribune.
The occasion was a field trip. The event was National Dharma Bee contest. The contest was part of SV 150 celebrations, marking the 120th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s trail blazing speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago and the 150th birth anniversary of the famous Indian monk.
Dharma Bee, the first national contest of its kind in the U.S., which drew well over 3,000 children from around the country, concluded in Chicago on June 15.
The Dharma Bee tested students' knowledge about Vivekananda and other Hindu leaders in a written test, oral presentation and team project. It included speech contest, poster presentation, written test and team activity in four age groups between grades K-8th grade.
More than 130 children, short-listed from regional competitions, were invited to participate in the final round held in Chicago on June 15.
Distinguished panel of judges from Chicago area as well as from around the US evaluated the contestants.
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh in collaboration with the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago successfully organized this final round that was broadcast worldwide at www.dharmabee.org.
The first Hindu Congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Swami Ishatmananda ji of Vedanta Society Chicago were chief guests for the prize distribution ceremony held at Hindu Temple Of Greater Chicago on June 16.
Following are winners in four categories:
Group 1 Winners (KG-1st grade): First Place - Dhruti Kulkarni (CA), Second Place - Abhiram Kapaganty (GA) Third Place - Haindavi Veldanda (CA)
Group 2 Winners (2nd-3rd): First Place - Nikitha Kota(TX), Second Place - Balan Selva(NJ), Third Place -Shashwat Srivatsan(NH)
Group 3 Winners (4th-5th): First Place - Anuj Kothari(CA), Second Place - Medha Boddu(VA), Third Place - Bhavna Ravichandran(NC)
Group 4 Winners (6th-8th): First Place - Natasha Patel(TX), Second Place - Harshavardhan Nalam(IL), Third Place - Anshul Kale(CA)
Congresswoman Gabbard in her remarks said the Dharma Bee was not just a competition to win a medal or title as the children have taken to their hearts the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and have found a way to understand the message. They did not do it because mom and dad asked them to do so, but they have realized and learned the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita themselves, she said. Early on in their life, the children have found the wisdom in the words of Lord Krishna and that the key for perfection and happiness in life lies in the Gita, Gabbard said.
“By dovetailing the message of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita in whatever we do, we are trying to do service in the name of Sri Krishna, and thus spiritualize it,” Gabbard said.
Pujya Swami Ishatmananda ji of Vivekananda Vedanta Society said, “Dharma” has a profound meaning namely, “that which holds.” According to Swami Vivekananda, Dharma or religion is a process that makes a brute into a man and man into god. He described the three phases of dharma which begins with rituals, then turns into morality and finally, becoming spirituality.
Dharma Bee goes to good things like honey bee goes to the choicest of flowers and pick the best, the Swami ji said while praising the apt name given to the competition.
“My daughter learned a lot by participating in Dharma Bee. She wanted to visit Parliament of World Religions at Chicago regardless she was selected in finale or not,” said Bhuvanesh ji, father of one of the participants.
Another father from Austin, whose six-year-old participated in the Bee said that not only his daughter learned about the greatness of Swami Vivekananda, but both he and his wife learned a lot about Swamiji’s life during this process.
Shreya Venkatesh, a contestant (13) from Phoenix, AZ said that she enjoyed learning (Hindu) culture and about Swami Vivekananda.
Another contestant, Suhas Subramaniam (13) from San Diego felt that this was an opportunity to learn about great personalities from the national and cultural past. Subramaniam said, “I knew about Shri Krishna, but because of Dharma Bee, I got to know a lot about Swami Vivekananda.”
“We wanted to provide an exciting avenue for children to learn about Swami Vivekananda and Shri Krishna. This enabled them to read stories and pursue a “Sewa” (service) activity in the local community. We are extremely happy to report that more than 1000 Sewa (service) projects were executed by children all across the USA. Parents and children are already requesting similar future events,” said Sreevidya Radhakrishna, National Coordinator of Dharma Bee.
HSS conducts a structured values education program through its 150 chapters nationwide to develop strong character and teamwork and leadership skills and to organize a dynamic and flourishing Hindu-American community. For more information, please visit www.hssus.org/sv150 and www.hssus.org